Eleven things about the Broncos as they return to action at Tennessee and look to build on a pre-bye week win in London.
1. If you’re looking for a single statistical turnaround that could lead to a boost for Denver, consider that the Broncos are No. 31 in the NFL in third-down conversion rate. Even that doesn’t do justice to the struggle, though. In the past decade, only three NFL teams have finished a full season with a rate worse than Denver’s current 29.2% mark.
2. “Conceptually, we have to be a little bit smarter as far as, looking around the league, you’re seeing a lot more zone coverage instead of man coverage (on third down),” offensive coordinator Justin Outten said. He identified one emphasis for the staff as, “Taking advantage of those situations and having conceptual variety, where you can have a man beater and a zone beater at the same time.”
3. In third-and-manageable, the Broncos are struggling thanks to a combination of a lack of timing and rhythm in their passing game and a lack of a consistent rushing attack. The easiest way to keep drives going on third down is to have play-calling options, but even that hasn’t helped Denver so far.
4. OK, not exactly rocket science here, but if you fail on third downs often, it makes capping drives with points difficult. Denver is No. 28 in the NFL in that department, scoring on just 28% of its possessions so far this season, according to Pro Football Reference. That’s despite the Broncos holding one of the lowest turnover rates (8.6% of possessions) in the game.
5. Maybe Russell Wilson’s wristband will help matters. That’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but for all the hullabaloo made regarding Pete Carroll’s comments and Wilson’s retort, having a few of the more wordy play-calls organized by number does seem to make sense for Wilson and head coach Nathaniel Hackett. A lot of quarterbacks in the NFL wear a wristband, including Hackett’s last guy, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
6. “As a play designer, sometimes you want to get a little creative and those things can get a little bit verbose,” Hackett said. … “Sometimes we get a little elaborate on those things because we’re sometimes trying to get a little crazy. So, it allows you to do that. I think it also helps with crowd noise. If you have crowd noise going, him listening to me, he just has to hear one wristband number, and then he can go in there and communicate to the guys properly. There’s a lot of different things that it’s good for.”
7. Now that the Broncos hold San Francisco’s 2023 first-round draft pick, it’s natural to keep an eye on the Bay Area over the rest of the season to see where it falls. Denver already did its part to help boost the value of that pick, beating the 49ers earlier in the season.
8. This weekend, though, brings a bit of a Catch-22 for Broncos fans. San Francisco plays against the Chargers, who at 5-3 are one of several teams between Denver and a potential, long-shot playoff spot. So either Los Angeles gets another win or the Broncos’ draft value falls on Sunday night. Who ya got? Perhaps it depends on what happens in Nashville.
9. Had a chance this past week to peek at a Sunday episode of “Peyton’s Places,” part of Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions empire. This one features Manning and Wilson talking about the latter’s baseball career. Wilson, of course, was a 2010 MLB draft selection of the Colorado Rockies. It’s a light-hearted 20 minutes, featuring some batting practice, two-sport star talk and a recounting of when NC State football coach Tom O’Brien told Wilson he couldn’t return to the Wolfpack because of his insistence on pursuing baseball. Whoops.
10. Actually, the show isn’t entirely about Wilson’s baseball career. Manning proudly points out he hit .440 as a high school senior shortstop at Isadore Newman in Louisiana. Wilson had perhaps the line of the episode when Manning takes batting practice at Coors Field, likening the Hall of Fame quarterback’s swing, to “a poor man’s Craig Counsell.”
11. The second half of the season is here and with it comes a more normal schedule for the Broncos. Eight straight Sundays before the typical final weekend flexibility. Even with a back-to-back Eastern Time Zone stint coming up in trips to Carolina and Baltimore, it should have a more standard feel to it. Now, what will the on-field part look like?